CoN History: Skyglade Gaiden
Herein, Tiddles and Rangers51 talk a lot about the things they've done for the last seven years. In third person. Just accept it and move on.
The idea of a new theme for CoN to replace what we now call "Persona" goes as far back as 2005, three years after the debut of the last theme. At that time, we were facing increasing bandwidth costs, and it was felt that the extremely image-heavy nature of Persona, particularly with the large number of images that might be randomised on every single page, was a significant contributor to this.
It was with this in mind that Tiddles created the first draft of a theme called "Skyline" in April 2005 (see right). Though it looks a bit like someone's been sick on it, you can see a lot of the design elements here of what would later become Skyglade. Though the intent was always to have a different colour scheme and skyline for each game, it may come as a surprise that Vector, and not Narshe, was the first to be developed. This was primarily as a reaction to the increasingly cold, blue hues of CoN themes through the ages; an overtly warm theme was chosen initially as a contrast.
As this initial design predates the creation of the current CoN logo, the skyline bar shows an identity design much more akin to the 2002 Persona Classic styling than the modern look, the main difference being that the italics have been removed and the site name has been converted to plain Arial rather than Arial Black. This was a highly unpopular look and was refined several times before the final design.
The Kefka used in this picture was always intended as a placeholder, with a new set of face artwork to be commissioned at a later time. Members had often commented that they preferred Persona over the alternatives due to the use of fanart; the use of a character head in these themes was a nod to that much-liked feature. It was always the intention to have only one character head per theme, unlike the multiple identities shown by Persona, both as a bandwidth saving measure and an attempt to strengthen the visual identity of each theme. We wanted to keep the original colours in the artwork this time, as it would not be used behind text and would not present a legibility issue; we also felt that the forum version of Persona was more likable than the site's version due to a wider range of colour and wanted to reflect that in the new theme. Regrettably, as it was an internal placeholder, and it was such a long time ago, we didn't record where we got this fanart from, so we extend our apologies to the artist! Let us know if you made this and we'll credit you appropriately.
This was not our only idea for a new theme, however. A short time later, Rangers51 began developing an alternative replacement theme, which became known as "Tangent". Tangent was intended to be an extremely low-weight skin that was bright and very open, putting the focus almost exclusively on the content. Tangent went through a series of iterations early on, with R51 unable to really settle on something that really met the needs of the site beyond simply being fast-loading. Eventually, this skin went by the wayside as Tiddles' Skyline showed considerably more promise.
The three iterations of Tangent:
This shared a navigational scheme with Skyline, and the updated body typography that would be used in the 2007 "Modern" update to the existing themes, but little else. Although the latest version shown here sports the correct "Caves of Narshe" logo typography, this was still not true for most of the theme's life – as you can see, the title text used Persona Classic's familiar Arial Black Italic in spite of the headings in the body text having lost this style. You may notice the familiar chocobo to its left, and behind the text on the right, though: when Tangent was first in development, this was merely a game-specific logo intended to display a Final Fantasy Tactics page, though the iconic quality of this image was hard to miss.
In July 2005, we sent a survey to a few selected staff and members showing previews of Skyline and Tangent as they were at that time. The results were not particularly encouraging: pretty much everyone actively disliked at least one of the themes, with the most positive comments being along the lines of "I could get used to it".
Skyline continued to be developed in spite of this criticism. It had, in fact, already seen significant improvement by the time of the survey preview version, which you can see here. The Narshe, Vector and Mt. Ordeals themes were all present in this preview, and could be changed using a browser's "Use style" menu (a feature which now tends to be well hidden, unfortunately) – however, the Mt. Ordeals theme was actually added in after the survey (but at least we know where the fanart came from this time!) Although the choice of Narshe for the main site theme heralded the return of a blue standard theme, the colours elsewhere in the theme were deliberately kept much warmer and earthier than past iterations.
By this time, Skyline was also developing a nested boxes theme, inspired somewhat by the shortlived and little-remembered Windows logos of the Windows 2000 era. How this could actually be in any way short-lived blows the mind. Seriously - look at the happy diving guy falling through the windows there? Can't take a second meaning from that! ...Anyway... the next major iteration (of Skyline, not the diving Windows guy) added some snazzy gradients and effects to try and liven up the flat earlier design; the "comb" of scanlines underneath the sidebar was added specifically to address feedback from the survey that criticised the uneven margins of the page area below the end of the sidebar. All of these additions were designed to use semi-transparent white gradients laid over flat colour, so that the same images could be used for each colour theme, reducing bandwidth usage. This version also introduced the tab/cutout style you see in today's Skyglade for active and hovered navigation links, where the white highlight merges into the page.
It was during development of Glissade that the now familiar CoN chocobo-in-diamond logo was developed, although its original Glissade-style blue and orange colour scheme as seen here has rarely been used. Many style and colour variants of the logo were developed to fit with individual themes and events, though it is most commonly seen in its neutral "white glass" scheme that was developed for Skyline (sometimes with a Narshe skyline blue background), or in the colours of the then-current Persona theme. The "Caves of Narshe" text logo treatment is first seen here too.
Tiddles continued to work on Skyline in the background, eventually bringing the logo elements debuted in Glissade to the theme. Initially, only the updated text was added in place of the bland original "Caves of Narshe" string, with strange looking transparent bars in an attempt to stop it from covering up the "feature" on the left of each skyline. This ended up looking a little odd.
The next version, while retaining the strange logo text, moved to a more sensible layout to include the logo, which was still rather flat at this point. The layout, however, would be retained for all further Skyline iterations. Note the unusual styling of the top right navigation in this version – this didn't last long! The heavy-set capitalised page headings used in the 2007 themes and retained in Skyglade make their first appearance here too.
This version was the first to include the final artwork, replacing the early placeholders. This was drawn up by fanart regular Rujuken. By now, if you're a forum regular, you will probably recognise that the same artwork was used on the 2007 refresh of the default Persona forum theme. The artwork was, in fact, commissioned for use with Skyline. We had intended to release both Skyline and Glissade with the tenth anniversary update, and update Persona in recognition, but time was short, and completing both themes in time proved impossible. Choosing a new default between the two had also proved more or less impossible, with Rangers51 and Tiddles both diplomatically but stubbornly backing their own creations. Such unpalatable suggestions as a forced selection on site entry and polls based on it were even put forth as methods of selection, but ultimately never came to fruition. Merging the best elements of both designs had also been proposed, but it was difficult to envisage a successful combination that did not dismiss some of the iconic features of at least one theme.
Having missed the 2007 changeover, Skyline took on few major changes after this point. The last revision developed for CoN dates from late 2008, but differs very little visually from what might have been used in a 2007 rebranding. The logo and associated text have now been replaced with the glassy variants tha would be retained for Skyglade and used as theme-agnostic variants elsewhere. A much smarter design has been put in place for the top navigation elements, and the table heading gradients have been made more subtle and pleasant – these versions are also retained in the current theme. A small extra margin has been added above and below the main page box, to accentuate the "boxes" theme, and a slight notch has been cut out of the hover cutout for sidebar items. Most of the skyline themes are complete or partly complete in this revision, and have changed little since.
Glissade was also on the back burner, but did see some changes. In the spirit of a unified design, we had agreed to try retrofitting the Skyline colour themes to Glissade. In fact, the Glissade preview version shown previously did contain a Mt. Ordeals option, though not a particularly pleasant one compared to Glissade's main colour scheme.
Between 2009 and 2012, a much revised Glissade was developed, though only visually: no Web page previews were produced. The theory behind this design was to produce a compliment to Skyline, where the colors would more closely align per-game so that regardless of which new skin was used, it would have a visual similarity to the other. Therefore, it is notable that this iteration's colour scheme is much closer to the Narshe Skyline theme; the "northern lights" style backdrop at the top and the sidebar style will also seem familiar if you've been using Skyglade lately. It was with this background that the spectre of merging Skyline and Glissade was raised once more, with Tiddles producing a mockup [ image ] which proved satisfactory to both designers. It was this that served as the basis for Skyglade, its name a loose portmanteau of its parents'. Skyglade incorporated the very distinctive top bar from Skyline, including the well-liked fanart feature, with the more modern and pleasant navigation and page design of neo-Glissade.
At this time, though, R51 had very little opportunity to actually produce a working HTML mockup of the design, and because of that, R51 and Tiddles regrouped to again debate the merits of preparing at least something for deployment for the site's fifteenth anniversary. Skyline at this time was nearly finished in terms of design, but couldn't make the leap to the site because it required new functionality on the server side to make the navigation work. Glissade 2 existed mainly on paper, or the digital equivalent, a huge Photoshop file. Late in 2011, though, we came to an accord: Skyline and Glissade 2 both brought enough to the table that a mash-up was a reasonable proposition, so why not get started on such a thing?
While the reboot for the Final Fantasy V section was still underway, R51 turned to creating the server underpinnings that made the new skin possible – without getting too boring with the technical details, the hurdle in the new skin was that the navigation templates that already existed on CoN simply wouldn't fit the style of navigation that either Skyline or Glissade needed. To make the navigation work, it needed to be separated from the presentation so that various skins could use it in different ways. The result was an all-new nav that is written in XML, with PHP-based parsers that can output any kind of HTML a skin might need to build its navigation. With this in place, we had everything we need to take the Skyglade you see above and make it into something that we could release on 31 July 2012.
We hope (and pray) that you like it. We didn't get everything done for release, but we got awful close and plan to keep improving the skin whenever we can!
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